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Long Beach rallies past Vaqueros in WSC opener

Sophomore Taylor McCluskey had 18 kills with a career-best .412 hitting percentage and a season-high 15 digs. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)
Sophomore Taylor McCluskey had 18 kills with a career-best .412 hitting percentage and a season-high 15 digs. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)

Taylor McCluskey had 18 kills and a season-high 15 digs on Wednesday night but Long Beach rallied for a 3-1 victory over SBCC in the WSC men's volleyball opener at the Sports Pavilion. The scores were 18-25, 25-17, 26-24, 25-19.

"We got outserved and outpassed tonight," said coach Matt Jones. "That's a good team and we have to get them out of system to be efficient. We didn't serve well, we missed too many and didn't hit our zones consistently, except for the first set. Our serve-receive was kind of all over the place."

The Vaqueros (5-3, 0-1) tied their season-high with a .302 hitting percentage but didn't serve well with one ace and 12 errors. Santa Barbara hit a robust .458 in the opener and .485 in the third set.

McCluskey recorded a career-best .412 hitting percentage. Jackson Wopat added 11 kills and Robert Gulvin had nine kills, a .583 percentage and four blocks, including three solo.

Matt Bohorquez notched a season-high 14 digs and Kyle Smiley had 45 assists, missing his career high by one.

Long Beach (8-2, 1-0) is favored to win the WSC this year. Andrew Pearson had 23 kills and hit. 333, leading the Vikings to their eighth straight win.

SBCC dominated the opening set, jumping out to leads of 10-5 and 14-11. The Vaqueros went on a 6-2 run that stretched the margin to 20-13. Haward Gomes capped the 25-18 win with an ace serve.

"They came out and did what we expected and we were were serving well and getting what we wanted on defense in the first set," stated Jones. "Then they made a few lineup changes and their ball control improved a lot."

Trailing 7-5 in the second set, the Vikings took control with a 7-1 run, capped by a kill from 6-8 Cesar Renteria that gave the visitors a 12-8 lead. They stretched it to 10 points, 21-11, on a kill off the block by Travis O'Gorman.

The third set was close throughout with Long Beach leading most of the way. The Vaqueros rallied to tie it at 22 when Joshua Nehls (14 kills) tipped a ball wide left. McCluskey tied it again at 24, scrambling to his feet and pounding a kill from the 10-foot line. Pearson produced back-to-back kills to give LBCC a 26-24 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.

"We didn't play great in the first set but they kind of gave it to us by hitting a lot of balls out," said McCluskey. "They realized that we could play and started stepping up. We couldn't stop their opposite (Pearson). We had one blocker every time he was hitting the ball and none of us could stop him. We needed to get two blockers on him."

There were 11 ties in the fourth set before the Vikings went ahead 20-17 on a kill by Nehls, a missed serve by the Vaqueros and an ace from Jayce Ashment. The Vaqueros got within two, 21-19, on a left-handed dump by Smiley but O'Gorman slammed a kill, igniting a 4-0 run to end the match.

"They played well and a lot of balls went over the block and landed in front of me, which was surprising," noted McCluskey. "They hit corners and picked up a lot of balls on defense.

"It's not a good way to start conference but we feel like they're the best team. They're the only ones to beat Orange Coast this year. We're looking at this as a confidence booster that we could play them pretty close despite missing a lot of serves."

The Vaqueros travel to Santa Monica on Friday for a 6 p.m. match.